Tag Archives: queen bee

Its all about the Queens

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Is there anything more inspiring, more filled with hope, than observing God’s creation come to life each spring?  The warming days green the fields and valleys lying below the snow capped mountains at which the yellow daffodils wave.  The spring sweet air and gentle temperatures caress and are a balm to the senses.  New life buds at every turn.  Serviceberry erupts into a white fountain of cascading flowers that join the red shower of quince blossoms and white/pink display of the ornamental pear.  The garlic planted last fall stands at full attention in awe of the awakening beauty and the erupting rhubarb bursting from the ground with a new found vigor.

There are new chicks in the barnyard next to a proud, protective mother hen who gently cares for the little peeps.  They are joined by the bawling of newborn calves in the nearby fields and aerial demonstrations of sparrow, dove, junco, nuthatch, chik-a-dee, raven and hawk pairing up for the nesting season.

The first fruit trees are breaking bud, but the apple trees remain smug, tightly under wrap, quietly mocking the apricot, peach and cherry for blooming so early, for they know that Jack Frost will soon return to give another show.  But these early bloomers are not fazed or concerned by the haughty attitude of the apple, for they know the strings of Christmas lights carefully stretched throughout their branches will be a castle wall against Jack Frost.  While the apple stands with crossed arms and bides its time, the cherry and apricot will reward their owner with the sweet blessing of first fruits.

In the midst of all this glorious activity the honeybees are exploring every new blossom, returning to the hive with the first golden nectar of the season.  (That’s an Italian queen in the first photo above) Each hives population is growing exponentially now as the new food sources and longer days spur the queen to lay an ever increasing number of eggs.  I have now been through all of my hives and each looks strong and healthy.  As is typical, each hive is a completely separate entity on its own time table.  A few are booming and will be watched closely to prevent swarming.  They are the beneficiaries of new young queens which came from splits made both early and late in the season last year.  Other hives are a little slower to come on.  Most of these are what I refer to as the Carnies.  In preparation for winter the race of bees known as Carniolan, or Carnies, reduce their numbers to a greater extent their Italian relatives.  They need less food stores to get through the winter that way, but it also means they are starting with fewer numbers in the spring and it takes them a bit longer to get up and going.

It’s looking like some hives will be ready to split in another month or so.  The hives I keep on the other side of the mountains where it is warmer, but also much wetter, are further along and I might be able to consider making splits there in another month.  I don’t do much feeding but when I am getting ready to make splits I will put out feeders with a one to one sugar water mixture about a month before splitting the hives.  This brood builder formula will boost the numbers in each hive in preparation for making splits.  I am happy to report that my favorite queen (a large dark Carney) is now three years old.  She wintered well and is still laying an excellent brood pattern.  She produces such calm and productive offspring that I want to keep her around as long as I can and it’s good to know I will have her for another season.  You can see pictures of her at the bottom of the page.  Notice the slight touch of red on her thorax.  She was part of a package of bees and was marked with the red dye.  Only the slightest trace now remains.

I do not expose my hives to the chemicals found in the commercial miticides used for  mite control and instead take a more natural, “softer” approach to controlling these destructive pests.  In the feeding mixture mentioned above I add essential oils for hive health.  The Tea Tree oil will kill fungus and disease while the wintergreen and spearmint will kill mites.  The formula I use is shown below.  Be sure to use pure food grade oils, such as those available through Lorann oils.

Brood Builder formula

1 teaspoon of Tea Tree oil

1 teaspoon of Wintergreen oil

1 teaspoon of Spearmint

10 drops of lemon grass oil

Mix the above ingredients in a blender with one cup of water.  I also add a tablespoon or so of my own honey to act as an emulsifier and help the oil and water to mix.  Blend on low for 5 minutes.  What you are making is a concentrate.  After blending pour the mixture into a half gallon container and fill with water.  Again, this is a concentrate.  You use one cup of the concentrate in a gallon of 1:1 sugar water mix when you feed your bees.

This feed will boost your hives and improve hive health as well.

Until next time – go smell the flowers.

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Photos are the courtesy of Janna Liewergen of “The Meadow of Lavender”   http://meadowoflavender.com/

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Preparing your Hive for Winter

Its been a busy few weeks.  The honey has been harvested from my local hives and this last weekend we traveled to some hives we have out of town.  There I put on a class and harvested a small amount of honey from some newly established hives.  Our demonstration included use of an old hand crank extractor that had been converted to a variable speed motorized extractor.  We also demonstrated the crush and strain method.  When I was first starting out a wise old beekeeper once told me not to spend the hundreds of dollars it takes to purchase an extractor until I knew for sure that beekeeping was what I wanted to do.  Its good advice and I recommend it to anyone just getting into beekeeping.  I still use the crush and strain method today as I enjoy this authentic way of obtaining my honey.

This time of year, (at least in the northern climates) your bees will likely have kicked out all the drones (I watched one being tossed out just the other day) and have filled all cracks (and everywhere else it would seem) with propolis in preparation for winter.  When temps drop below 54 to 57 the bees will from a cluster around the queen in the brood chamber.  The cluster of workers maintains a temp of about 92 degrees.  The bees eat while in the cluster and move around as a cluster.  When temps drop below 40 to 45 they are unable to move about but stay warm in the cluster by shivering their wings.  Bees wont defecate in the hive and will hold off until it is warm enough (45 to 50) to make cleansing flights.  (Another reason you don’t want chemicals in your hive.)  The queen will stop laying for a period of a few weeks in the winter.  The workers live much longer (months instead of weeks) in the winter because they are not flying very much.

If you find your bees do not have enough stores for winter (at least 40 to 50 pounds of honey) you can feed them a 2-1 mixture of sugar to water.  As long as the weather is warm they will be able to take this in a store it.  There is a recipe of essential oils at the bottom that helps with hive health and controls mites.

If your hive is in an exposed or windy site, you might consider moving it against a south facing wall where the wall will give off heat during the night.  You could also shield the hive from the prevailing wind by putting up some protection with hay bales.  Some people wrap their hives in tar paper which gets warm in the sun and helps to heat the hive.  I’m not convinced this is necessary and some folks can even get into trouble doing this by closing up the hive to tightly so their is not enough air flow to remove moisture from the hive.  Sometime they also end up blocking the entrance to the hive.  A prudent middle ground for those who want to use tar paper would be to place a couple layers of it across the top of the hive, held down with a rock.

You will also want to tilt your hive forward so that moisture which accumulates on the inner cover does not drip down onto the bees.  This condensation dripping onto your bees will kill them.  To accomplish this place blocks of wood that are 3/4 of an inch to one inch thick under the back of your hive.  Another thing that helps with ventilation is to glue popsicle sticks to the underside of the corners of your inner cover.  This allows a gentle flow of air through the hive that will assist in removing the moisture that is generated when your bees consume their honey stores over the course of the winter.

Finally, add a mouse guard.  Mice love the warm, protected environment of a hive, but you wont appreciate the kind of damage they can do.

Below is the recipe for mite control and hive health.

Concentrate Mixture – To one cup of water add 1 teaspoon of wintergreen essential oil and 3/4 of a teaspoon of Tea Tree oil.  The wintergreen will kill mites and the tea tree oil works as an anti-bacterial.  (Mites bring bacteria into the hive with them and cause disease)  Blend this mixture in a blender on low speed for 5 minutes.  Then add the concentrate to a half gallon container and fill with water.

Feed your bees a 2-1 sugar water mixture for 3 to 4 weeks (you don’t  need to have feed in front of them day in and day out, just feed a couple times a week).  When you mix your sugar water add one cup of your essential oil mixture (from your half gallon container) to one gallon of sugar water mix.

 

The Queen of Hearts, Hives and Frustration

What a terrific weekend we had at the Meadow of Lavender in Colton Oregon this weekend for the Oregon Lavender Festival. There was an excellent turnout and I’m sure everyone enjoyed themselves as they learned about the lavender products and how they are made. We also had excellent attendance at the bee classes I held and in each class people suited up in the spare bee suits that were available and had a look in the hives for themselves. My thanks to all those who attended.

In the first class the attendees had the opportunity to see first hand how a hive requeens itself in a process called supercedure. At the bottom of one of the frames we removed from the hive were two queen cells, about four inches apart. One cell was opened at the very bottom, the other was opened from the side. The first cell was the one the queen hatched from. When a new queen hatches the first thing she does is dispatch with any other queens in the hive. The other queen cell demonstrated how that is done. The new queen chews through the side of the cell and stings to death the queen that has yet to hatch.

After looking the queen cells over and discussing what happened we continued our inspection of the hive and found lots of newly laid eggs and tiny larvae. Though we did not see the queen herself, it was apparent she has been very busy since hatching and completing her mating flights.

This brings me to the point of this post. There has been a lot of trouble with queen failure this year. This is an issue that has been building for the past number of season and appears to have finally landed with a crash this year. In reading the various forums it appears to be a fairly widespread occurrence. My own experience with this has even been greater than most are reporting. In April I purchased 9 new packages of bees. Six of nine packages, have lost queens, some more than once, as in the hive we inspected in class. The queens that came with the packages are soon replaced and then the new queen fails and is replaced again. This leads to weak hives and I am about to lose one of my new hives because they have grown weak and failed to raise a new queen.

Of course there are a number of different view points, but one that makes a lot of sense has to do the problems queen producers have had with insect growth regulators that have been put on during the bloom with fungicides, mostly in California. All of my packages came from California so I don’t believe its a coincidence my new packages are failing. There can also be a lack of genetics and diverse drone sources in the large commercial producers that contribute to the problem.

With nearly $100 dollars invested in each package I have reached the conclusion it is no longer feasible to purchase commercially available packages. If you are considering acquiring bees next season I would recommend against using a commercial outlet to get your bees. There is simply too much at risk and if your just starting out who wants the trouble and disappointment of losing hives. Many newbees would be left thinking it was something they did. As I stated in my classes this last weekend, I am interested in new beeks (beekeepers) having success, therefore, after having lost nearly 70 percent of the queens that came in the new packages I purchased this year I can only suggest that you avoid the commercial outlets. I mean really – who wants to spend all the money it takes to set up new hives and acquire the equipment you need, just to get inferior bees that don’t have a good chance of making it.

So what’s the alternative? Go with locally produced nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus hive. Normally you get four frames of bees and a frame of stores, but the fours nucs that a friend and I purchased this year came stuffed with five full frames of bees. All four are doing well and have not experience the requeening/supercedure issues that the packages have experienced. The advantage of a nuc is that you have a queen who has been laying and producing for weeks, if not months, before you purchase it. This miniature hive is established and well on its way with a queen that has proven she is healthy. Yes, nucs often cost a bit more, but the premium you pay is well worth it if you are getting a healthy queen instead of a poor commercially produced queen that will be replaced nearly as soon as you put her in the hive.

So if you are looking at beginning beekeeping next season or if you want to add to the hive or hives you already have, now is the time to begin to locate local beeks that will have nucs to sell next season. Find out about their practices and the success rate of their nucs. Get to know them and their products. Ultimately you should come out far ahead with a nuc over a package of bees.

And for you beeks with a season or two under your belts, learn to split your own hives and make your own increase. Splitting a hive is not difficult and far less expensive. If you have yet to do it, then consider it your next step along the path of beekeeping.

Until next time my best to all of you and may you only know the queen of hearts when it comes to your own hives.

Meadow of Lavender link – http://meadowoflavender.com/

Attracting Bees and Pollinators

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Seems every year I’m planting a few more things that are good for the bees and this year is not different.  Certainly there are many annuals out there that the bees enjoy, such as bachelor buttons and I have them scattered all around the place.  They readily reseed themselves and are a welcome, if sometimes overly prolific variety.  But when it comes to selecting plants for the bees I keep, I always plant perennials.  Last year it was caryopteris, (dark knight) a purple flowered plant that blooms late in the season.  Here in the High Desert of eastern Oregon we are very dry and we sometimes approach a dearth of food for the bees in the hot days of August.  So when selecting plants to attract bees think about when they flower.  You don’t want them to all bloom early in the spring and then be done.  Sedums are also excellent plants that bloom late and the bees just love them.

So what to add this year?  Well I did add one more caryopteris simply because the bees love it and it blooms until the first frosts shut it down, but what new plants could be added?  I decided on three different ones to add more diversity and a variety of pollen types for the bees to make use of.  Pollen is nearly perfect food and contains the protein, amino acids and enzymes the bees need to live – yes they do eat more than just honey.  Each type of pollen offers the bee varying levels of the various amino acids and enzymes they need.

The first new plant to go in was an elderberry.  This plant can grow to ten feet tall and produces clusters of white flowers in the spring.  Yes, it is the same plant that produces berries that can be eaten or used for elderberry wine.  The second plant was Agastache otherwise known as hyssop.  It can smell a bit like licorice and is often used as an herb in soups, stews and salids, though use it sparingly.  The pink/red flowers bloom in late summer, adding to my collection of plants that will provide a food an nectar source for my bees during the hottest and driest time of year.  Once established the plant is a drought tolerant, low maintenance plant that butterflies like in addition to the bees.  The plant does best in our part of the world if not pruned until late spring after the last of our frosts.  The third plant I selected also adds to the selection of food available to my bees late in the season and that is goldenrod.  This plant blooms for a long time and is another the butterflies enjoy.  It grows up to about 18 inches and its lemon yellow flowers are a refreshing break from the summertime “browns” that begin to dominate when the temperature hovers around 100 degrees.  This is another hardy plant that once established needs only occasional watering.

As you can tell, I have focused mainly on adding plants that bloom late in the season.  If you keep bees or plan on getting them, take a mental inventory of when your area may be lacking in flowering plants.  We have tons of fruit tree blossoms in the spring as well as many other plants.  When the spring time bloomers have done their thing the raspberries come along and they bloom for the rest of the season.  If there is one thing you could plant that the bees just love and is available to them for most of the season, it would be raspberries.  Not to mention you get a delightful treat out of the deal yourself.

So there’s a short run down on some plants I have added to the yards just for the bees.  The list is long and there are many other plants to choose from, just one word of warning.  Bees rely on these plants for resin, nectar and pollen.  Most of the plants you get at the big box stores are full of GMO and neonicatinoid contamination and are best avoided as there is mounting evidence of the detrimental effect these compounds have on honeybees and butterflies.  Obtain our plants from a known source.  Get to know someone at a local nursery who can tell you where the plants came from and if they are poisoned with neonicatinoids or not.  It will be better for you, especially if your eating your bees honey and better for the bees as well, so that you get to share in the sweetness of their efforts.

As always I hope these articles help you understand more about honeybees and make you a more successful beekeeper yourself.
The photo is from Curlew photo and if you like it you should check them out at the link on the right hand side.

 

Now Was That fun or What??!!!

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One of the greatest joys of beekeeping is collecting a swarm.  It’s been a few seasons since I’ve collected a swarm for my own beeyard.  I’ve helped others collect swarms the past couple summers but had not had the opportunity to collect one for myself.  Thus I was pretty excited last night when we got a call about an hour or so before dark, from a friend of ours who passed along the location of swarm not too far from where we live.  The swarm was in the front yard of a friend’s of theirs.  My wife and I grabbed our gear and headed right on over.  We were greeted by the neighbors and proceeded to get our gear on so we could collect the bees.

As you can see from the pictures the swarm was located inside a small evergreen tree.  It was kinda tight getting in to reach them and we didn’t want to cut any branches from the tree.  The neighbors asked how we would get them out of there.  Normally I would have cut the branch off and then smacked it so the ball of bees fell into my nuc box, but I’m not sure that would have worked this time.  The bees were balled up around a number of smaller branches, so while my wife held the box underneath the ball of bees I shook the limbs above it, dropping the bees into the box.  Then I took my brush and swept more of the bees from the tree into the box.

We set the box in the driveway and began to watch for the bees to fan.  If you have caught the queen the workers will sit atop the box and in front of the entrance with their little butts up in the air fanning away to spread the queens pheromone.  This way the other bees know where the queen is at and will come a running, or flying as the case may bee.  It wasn’t long before we had a number of bees fanning away and I was pretty sure we had the queen at that point.  Still, there were a number of bees still balling up in the tree.  I made three more trips back to the tree to brush out more bees into the lid of the nuc so I could drop them in with the rest of the bees, thereby collecting as many as I could.

With the bees all up in the air after stirring them up and one neighbor allergic to bee stings, everyone had gone inside except for the one neighbor you see in shorts in the picture.  He was very curious and we had a delightful conversation about bees, their life cycle and about collecting them.  While the bees found their way into the box with the queen, my wife and I answered his questions.  Then so he could see the fanny bees we had been describing to him my wife gave him her bee suit so he could have a close up look and I pointed out the fanning bees we had been talking about.

I enjoyed our conversation with this person very much.  One of the rewards of beekeeping is sharing with people how different honeybees are from other bees – such as yellowjackets and wasps.  Not all bees are the same and as you can tell from the picture he found them to be quite docile which they almost always are unless you are near or getting into their hive.  Most swarms are especially easy to handle because they have no home to defend and are mostly just interested in staying with the queen.

We left the box for about an hour and after dark I returned in my pickup to collect them.  When I got home I place the box out in the beeyard and early this morning I hived them into a new hive that hopefully will become a nice new addition to my growing number of hives.

Now a short lesson.  Why does a beehive swarm and where did these bees come from?  Swarming is the bees way of making a new hive.  When their hive is getting full they raise up a new queen and then the old queen departs with at least half the of the bees in the hive.  This gives the bees much needed room inside the hive.  A new queen is a very productive layer and will rapidly raise up a number of bees to replace the ones that left.  Swarming is natures way of making new beehives but if you are keeping bees for honey production swarming is not something you want to see.  The loss of all those bees from the hive means you have probably lost your honey production for the season, so most beekeepers will split strong hives early in the season to keep then from swarming.  Splitting a hive is kind of like an artificial swarm but you keep your bees that way and get a new hive out of it too.

Where did this swarm come from?  With the dry canyon and lots of juniper trees nearby, its possible this is a native swarm from a wild beehive.  I also know of a couple beekeepers that are not far from where we found the swarm and its also possible it came from one of their hives.

This is the time of year hives swarm.  A hive that came through the winter strong and healthy will be producing huge numbers of bees by now.  I thank my friends who called to let me know about this swarm and if we are lucky we may be able to catch another one before the swarm season is over.

“It’s Two AM, the Fear is Gone”

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I don’t know why that old Golden Earring song has been playing through my head all day – maybe because it was 3AM and the drive was long??  Yes, three AM.  We had a chance to obtain two nucs this morning, but it meant we had to make the 3+ hour drive early in the morning because the nucs are open to the world and once the hive warms up the bees will be out and about.  So we made the trip to Oregon City and arrived at just after 6AM.

For the new folks out there a nuc is short for nucleus hive.  They are usually made up of 3 to 4 frames of bees, a newly mated queen and a frame or two of honey and normally sell for around $100 to $125.  It’s a particularly fast way to start up a hive because the comb is already drawn out so the queen can lay her eggs and the number of bees is high and doesn’t have to build up like a package of bees does.  It still needs to build numbers, just not like a package.

These nucs were amazing. I’ve never seen nucs so full of bees and brood.  The roar coming from inside the two nuc boxes into which we transferred the five frames each was almost a little intimidating, though they weren’t all that aggressive as they tried to figure out where they were after hiving them, one in each of my bee yards.  The transfer actually went very smooth and I’m anxious to see them get settled in and got work.

Why did I get up at three AM to go on a long drive and spend my hard earned money?  Well, I do work for the queen you know, or at least the love of the queen.  As with most beekeeping seasons there comes a question that seems to have no answer.  This year it is the loss of queens.  Queens that died shortly after the package was hived.  One package even came with a dead queen, which can happen, but is rare.  The real mystery is the loss of queens in otherwise strong and healthy hives.  Two of my hives that wintered successfully started out well with the queen laying perfect brood patterns, then for some reason the queen in each hive just up and died.  It was the same story in one of my new packages – the queen got the hive off to a great start and then boom – no queen.  I even tried re-queening that hive with a new queen and after four days in the cage, when the queen was released the bees killed her.  Technically that would mean the bees have a queen but I have not found any eggs or larvae in the hive for a couple weeks now.  Curiously, there was one queen cell on the bottom of a frame, but it had not yet been capped. That’s a long way of saying I have lost some hives and wanted to find replacements for them and thus the early morning trip.

So the Mystery of the Disappearing Queen seems to be the story of this season.  I’ve run into two other bee keepers who say they have experienced a similar problem.  Chemicals????  One can only wonder. I hope to learn more as the season goes on because I use no chemicals of any kind, not even miticides, in my hives.

Great news from the beeyard in Colton where we stopped in for a quick hive inspection on our way back from Oregon City.  The two hives we combined are looking sensational!  This is one strong hive that is now drawing out some very nice comb in the second box added just a week or so ago.  If you have never combined hives using the newspaper method don’t be afraid to try it should the need arise.  It works on the same principle as the candy plug in a queen cage.  You place a sheet of newspaper with short slits cut into it over the top of the box of bees that you are adding more bees to.  Then you add the box of bees that are queenless on top to join them to the existing hive on the bottom.  The bees will eat through the paper barrier but while that is happening the new bees being added to the hive have time to adjust to and begin to recognize the scent (pheromone) of the queen they will be joining.  By the time the bees have chewed through the paper the new bees added to the old hive will accept the queen and wont attack her.  Its a great way to make a strong hive out of two weak hives or as was the situation in my case, a queenless hive was added to a strong hive with a queen.

The other two Colton hives we inspected are looking good and though slower than bees in my other beeyards, they have made good progress drawing comb the last couple weeks and both hives are really going to pop in the next 10 days or so when all the capped brood they are full of begins to hatch out.

I always enjoying hearing from those of you following along but this time around I would especially like to hear from those who have lost queens this season and their thoughts about why that might be happening.

Until next time, its OK to bee a Newbeeinthehive.

Things are Humming in the Bee Yard

The Horse Chestnut is in full bloom and its a wonder to watch and listen to all the bee activity there.  Honeybees just love the pink and yellow blossoms!

Less than six weeks after installing new 2 pound packages in five new hives, the second super was added to three of the new hives yesterday.  The first deep brood box has been drawn out in comb on eight to nine of the frames and the bees need more room to grow.  It is important not to add the second brood box too soon as the bees natural tendency is to move up and its possible they would move up and not finish their work in the first brood box.  It is also important not to wait too long or the bees will decide they are out of room and that it is time to swarm.

Now that the second brood boxes have been added the feeding has come to an end for these three hives.  One of the remaining hives is not quite ready yet and I am giving them one more week to work on drawing comb out in the bottom brood box.  They were given feed and a warning to get with it.  (smile)  The fifth hive has another issue all together.  Some how this hive lost its queen.  It could be she wasn’t healthy to begin with, or its always possible she was injured during a hive inspection.  This is something I take great care in making sure she is not rolled (crushed between frames when replacing them) or otherwise injured and I don’t know that I have ever injured a queen during an inspection, but there is always a first time.  Anyway, I new queen was installed in this hive and she should be released today based upon the amount of candy left in the queen cage.  The loss of the queen will certainly set this hive back and it may not provide much honey, but that is secondary to losing the hive itself.  Ultimately this hive should be alright.

Enjoy your holiday weekend and drive safe.